Sunday, 17 April 2011

Understanding Sensory Needs: In the Class

Music, Flashing Lights & Aromatherapy, OH MY!

Working in various integrated settings, I found ECEs to be particularly skilled at creating sensory experiences within the classroom! I have seen unbelievable sand and beach areas, science corners, and touch tables which provide hours and hours of sensory delight. Children that are either over or under responsive to stimulus, require a different kind of sensory consideration.

Of all the ways I have seen sensory needs addressed, within a classroom setting, my favorite are those which allow the student the remain a part of the class (though perhaps, off to the side, in a special area, or far enough away that individual child needs are met). I have seen sensory corners, waiting zones, place markers (an X or a Square), fidget areas and possibly the most widely used, story-book nooks and quiet spaces; all achieve the same goal, provide a safe space for the child to regroup. As teachers, we all make decisions when planning how our classroom will look and feel, and my hope is that after reading this, teachers will consider the sensory needs of each learner as an integral aspect of  successful classroom planning!

As teachers of children with varying needs, we become skilled at noticing the antecedents which precede self-stimulatory behaviors, repetitive behaviors and other stereotypies (hand-flapping, twirling, rocking, fidgeting and so on). Learning to distinguish between the various functions of each habit, will allow teachers to meet sensory needs, and decrease the likelihood of behaviors which interfere with learning. Knowing the functions will help determine the course of action for increase or decreasing the behavior; there are 4 functions, escape, avoid, gain access to desired item, or gain attention.

A short walk down to the office is a terrific, functional and age-appropriate way to self-regulate; these type of typical classroom experiences are a fantastic way to reward positive behavior, and reinforce successful learning. *not to say that a child would never be removed from a class based on sensory needs, just that it would not be a habit, so as not to reinforce that sensory behavior yields escape from task. 

Ex: First, a math work sheet and then, a walk to the office!

Many children require short body or sensory breaks, which should be sought within the classroom environment. Though out of class breaks (gym time, recess, lunch, and so on) are an essential part of a successful scheduled program, it is important for children to develop the ability to self-regulate within the classroom environment. In my class, this is facilitated by a tag-team teaching approach, in which teachers rotate between students, allowing each student to have both 1:1 instruction periods, and self-directed down time in between activities.

In planning for next year, I imagine many sensory additions to the classroom...stay tuned for more info!

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